US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan have met with Yang Jiechi, the most senior ranking official in the Chinese diplomatic corps, as well as State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The meeting took place in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday and Friday last week. In preparation for meeting with the Chinese officials, the Americans sent officials of their own to US allies Japan and South Korea with the aim of emphasising Washington's commitment to the Indian and Pacific Oceans in the face of Beijing's influence.
Moreover, reassurances were not limited to allies in Asia and surrounding the two oceans. US President Joe Biden has revived the Quad alliance bringing together the foreign ministers of Australia, Japan, India and America in a meeting on 18 February. The alliance was proposed by Tokyo a few years ago to besiege China, but it was neglected by the administration of former President Donald Trump.
The US involvement in the confrontation with China has become almost complete, as it includes the revival of alliances and political and military initiatives. Its influence clearly extends to the military, as Washington has deployed the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier from the Arabian Gulf to the region, despite the great tension and unprecedented attacks on Saudi Arabia, the ally and strategic partner to which India has got closer. India is now able to put pressure on Riyadh without US objections, as Delhi threatened to stop importing oil from the Saudis to force them to raise their production ceiling and lower their prices.
The US is unlikely to get involved in the region's crises that will expose it to over-commit itself. It is showing an uninhibited desire to activate regional powers and encourage the launch of regional initiatives and major agreements such as the 5+1 Iranian nuclear agreement (the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Washington is also sending envoys to revive negotiations in Yemen and specific Arab groupings, such as Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. America is encouraging countries in the Middle East to get involved in dialogue and cooperation. This is a valuable opportunity for some to make some gains, including Iran, Israel and, further afield, India, but includes heavy burdens at the same time. It is an irritating challenge for others.
The Gulf States suffer from following a faulty compass that has led to real dangers from the rush towards Israel and India. The opportunity to build true partnerships and cooperation that serves the interests of the peoples of the Arab region and West Asia is on the verge of disappearing due to the choices of some Arab countries and the disruption of their regional, cultural and civilisational pathways.
In any case, America's preoccupation with the South China Sea and the Pacific and Indian Oceans is not an illusion. It nearly led to a confrontation between the American destroyer USS John McCain and a number of Chinese naval vessels. This forced the US ship to leave what China claimed was its territorial waters.
It is no accident that the US and China chose Alaska for their meeting. The US state is at the end of the famed Northwest Passage which could well become a new maritime trade route for Chinese vessels to get into the North Atlantic and beyond. However, China's Belt and Road Initiative also seeks to develop maritime links with the Middle East and Africa, and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. None of this will be possible if Beijing does not acknowledge US geopolitical supremacy that extends to the Suez Canal and the Arabian Gulf, and it reaches some sort of agreement with Washington about this.
The US is preoccupied and will remain so for some time. The Arabs in the Gulf and Red Sea regions must live with the new equations that put them at the bottom of US and Chinese political priorities as long as their options are limited to what America proposes. They forget that other states are keen to do business with the countries in the Arab world; Russia and a number of regional powers, for example. Will the Arab regimes now formulate their own agenda, or will they remain hostage to Washington's will?
This article first appeared in Arabic in the New Khaleej on 22 March 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.